The conversation around the need for a national pharmacare program is picking up as the Canadian Labour Congress prepares to launch a campaign this fall.

“Our campaign is going to be to put pressure on the federal government to commit to start working with the provinces. And we’re hoping that they will come at the appropriate time with some dollars,” says Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress.

“We’re hoping that the federal government will recognize that they’ve got to come to the table in terms of co-ordinating this,” he adds. “Provinces have been doing this on their own for quite some time. They’ve started co-ordinating in their bulk purchasing . . . but they’re still limited in terms of how much they can do without the federal government playing a significant role.”

Read: Employers face hard questions until national drug program becomes reality

Ontario also weighed in on the topic this week. “Provincial ministers of health have been having this conversation for a number of years,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne as she left the annual premiers’ conference in Edmonton on Wednesday.

“We need to have this national conversation. Provinces have moved in different ways to address it. I think we can all agree it’s a gap in medicare.”

Read: Ontario NDP puts forward universal pharmacare proposal

The Alberta Federation of Labour noted employees in that province have been feeling the strain, with one in three having no health benefits from their employers.

“Canada’s piecemeal multi-payer drug system is expensive, inefficient and doesn’t ensure people receive the life-saving prescriptions they need,” said Gil McGowan, president of the federation, in a press release.

“When people skip their medications or otherwise ignore doctors’ orders because of costs, additional burdens to the health-care system actually cost everyone more.”

Read: Panel calls on feds to create an ‘equitable’ and ‘cost-effective’ national pharmacare system

Nova Scotia’s labour movement is also joining the push for a national pharmacare program.

“Public spending in Nova Scotia covers less than half the cost of prescription medication, and an estimated one in three of the province’s 450,000 workers, so about 150,000 workers, don’t have health benefits at all,” said Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, in a press release.

“We have 59,000 self-employed workers in Nova Scotia without employer-based health benefit coverage. We know that 92 per cent of residents in Atlantic Canada strongly support establishing a universal prescription drug plan, and that’s why as labour leaders we are pushing for a universal prescription drug plan for everyone.”

Read: Canadians divided on benefits of a universal drug program: report

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